“Jan Swafford’s new book, ‘Language of the Spirit,’ is a self-guided tour,” reads an unsigned article in Thursday’s (3/30) Economist (U.K.). “ ‘When a piece [of music] or a composer grabs you, go out and look for more on your own,’ he says. And he has plenty of suggestions to get you started on streaming services such as Spotify or YouTube.” Swafford, a musicologist and composer, “has written a scholarly but highly readable [biographies] of Beethoven, [Brahms, and Ives] … and has been teaching music for decades, most recently at the Boston Conservatory. This book distils his experience of passing on his knowledge and experience to others, and making it enjoyable for them…. Thumbnail sketches of the composers bring them to life … Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart and a raft of Romantics, from Schubert to Wagner. Mr. Swafford … gives prominence to a number of American composers…. Swafford slips in many interesting digressions. One is an excellent explanation of the difference between tonal music, based on scales and keys, and the atonal sort, which dispenses with such conventions. Another is an evaluation of the early-music movement…. A third is about the complicated art and science of piano tuning.”

Posted April 3, 2017